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Publication - Professor Samir Okasha

    Social justice, genomic justice, and the veil of ignorance: Harsanyi meets Mendel

    Citation

    Okasha, S, 2012, ‘Social justice, genomic justice, and the veil of ignorance: Harsanyi meets Mendel’. Economics and Philosophy, vol 28., pp. 43-71

    Abstract

    John Harsanyi and John Rawls both used the veil of ignorance thought
    experiment to study the problem of choosing between alternative social
    arrangements. With his ‘impartial observer theorem’, Harsanyi tried to
    show that the veil of ignorance argument leads inevitably to utilitarianism,
    an argument criticized by Sen, Weymark and others. A quite different use
    of the veil-of-ignorance concept is found in evolutionary biology. In the celldivision process called meiosis, in which sexually reproducing organisms
    produce gametes, the chromosome number is halved; when meiosis is
    fair, each gene has only a fifty percent chance of making it into any
    gamete. This creates a Mendelian veil of ignorance, which has the effect
    of aligning the interests of all the genes in an organism. This paper shows
    how Harsanyi’s version of the veil-of-ignorance argument can shed light on
    Mendelian genetics. There turns out to be an intriguing biological analogue
    of the impartial observer theorem that is immune from the Sen/Weymark
    objections to Harsanyi’s original.

    Full details in the University publications repository